Bachpan Bachao Andolan was established by Kailash Satyarthi and others in 1980 with a vision to end the problem of child labour. It soon became a mass movement that identified, liberated, rehabilitated, and educated child labourers across the country.
It was 4 a.m. when Kailash Satyarthi and his colleagues reached an illegal stone quarry to rescue bonded labourers. As soon as the security guard went to refresh himself, they conducted a raid and rescued the men, women, and children. While the adults were taken away in a truck, Kailash himself drove the children to safety. The children were terrified. In order to break the ice, Kailash told them look under their seats, pick up a few bananas and eat them. The children picked up the fruit and looked very confused.
“’Is it an onion or a potato?’ they asked. That’s when I realised these children had never seen a banana in their lives,” says Kailash.
The image of one of them eating the fruit without peeling the skin haunts him till date.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan was founded by Kailash and a group of like-minded individuals in 1980.
The organisation has liberated 82,000 child labourers to date and continues to work to rehabilitate and educate them.
“People always ask me whether I’ve ever felt like giving up on my mission. But I ask them if they would expect me to wait even for a day if my son or daughter was kidnapped, before swinging into action. How can I ignore the pleas of a mother who has asked me to rescue her child?” asks this Nobel Laureate who won the Peace Prize in 2014.
Back when the organisation was formed, the issue of child labour was not a part of public discourse.
Those were challenging times for the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. Over the years, its members faced brutal physical attacks and some of them have even been assassinated.
“The people who enslave others are usually very powerful. So it’s common for us to conduct raids without the help of the police, especially when these factories or brothels are owned by someone with very strong contacts. We have been attacked plenty of times. One of my colleagues was shot dead. Another was beaten to death. I myself have a broken shoulder and scars all over my body,” says Kailash.
However, these incidents only strengthened Kailash’s resolve to continue with his work.
In Delhi, Bachpan Bachao Andolan established the Mukti Ashram in 1991. This was the first rescue home for bonded labourers in the country. In this transit home, children get food, clothing and medical and psychological aid. In 1998, Bachpan Bachao Andolan set up the Bal Ashram in Rajasthan to ensure long-term assistance to victims of child labour.
After rescuing him from a zari factory in Delhi, the organisation rehabilitated Imtiyaz and sent him home. However, during follow-up visits, its members realised that the child wasn’t going to school regularly.
The organisation convinced his parents to send him to the Bal Ashram, where Imtiyaz now leads a happy life.
“Life has changed a lot. I am in class 6 now. I take classical singing lessons and want to become an engineer when I grow up. My role model is Mr. Satyarthi and I hope I can free child labourers like he did when I grow up,” says Imtiyaz.
Apart from rehabilitating victims, the organisation also spreads awareness on the importance of education. For this purpose, it has encouraged the establishment of Bal Mitra Grams or child-friendly villages. The organisation has created as many as 151 Bal Mitra Grams since 2001. This model requires that children be withdrawn from labour units and sent to school. In these villages, children also form Bal Panchayats to influence the decision making process and get democratic space for themselves.
Payal, from Hinsla village in Rajasthan, is the Bal Pradhan of her panchayat.
Her village became a Bal Mitra Gram in 2012. Ever since Bachpan Bachao Andolan activists enlightened her on her role, Payal was at the forefront of a movement protesting the practice of child marriage in the village. Eventually, Payal and her Bal Panchayat managed to put an end to child marriage in Hinsla.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s efforts also led to the framing and implementation of very important legislations on the issue of child labour in India and abroad.
It held a mass demonstration outside the Parliament demanding changes,including a ban on child labour till 14 years of age, in The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. It also helped in coordinating the historic Global March Against Child Labour in 1998. The march took place across 103 countries and culminated in an international ban on child labour.
In 2008, the organisation developed a database on child labour. It contains information on over 1,300 child labourers and 2,800 offenders. This resource has become a treasure trove for research and has proven to be a reliable source of data for lawyers, activists, and the authorities.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan is funded by various organisations and grants. It applied for the HCL Grant to facilitate the establishment of 30 Bal Mitra Grams in Rajasthan’s Jaipur district. The plan will engage the community, eliminate child marriage through education and involve children in the decision making process as well as mobilise 45,000 community members so they can demand education for children.